Prospect Q&A: Cardinals Outfielder Chris Swauger on Minor League Camp, Playing Alongside Oscar Taveras

Because Minor League camps are cranking up this week, I thought it appropriate to focus on the kind of farmhand that is not lumped in with those super prospects that receive invites to Major League Spring Training. Enter the Cardinals’ Chris Swauger (bio, stats here), one of the brighter and more thoughtful ballplayers in the Minors.

And he is a prospect. Don’t mistake that. The 2008 26th-round Draft pick has turned himself into just that at age 26.

I caught up with the slugging outfielder — he overcame a fractured thumb and registered two six-RBI games before breaking his collarbone last season — to ask him about getting ready for the rigors of spring. And, yeah, we also chatted about a super prospect who is in MLB camp: Double-A Springfield teammate Oscar Taveras, who likely will be manning the outfield with Swauger at Triple-A Memphis in this summer. (I’m working on a story about Taveras’ defense for our Defensive Gems series. What you see below are good quotes that won’t make it into that story.)

Allison Rhoades/Memphis Redbirds

Allison Rhoades/Memphis Redbirds

On his offseason: “The last three seasons I have gone off and played winter ball in Latin America during October, November, December, in those months. So it was a different kind of plan [this offseason]. Usually, I wouldn’t start hitting and throwing until the end of January because I would have just got done playing. This year, I got through and cleared out of my rehab in October and then took November and most December off and started hitting right after Christmas  So it’s been more of a tuning up this offseason than it has been in the past, but that’s just just because I had such a longer layoff in between. It’s nice to live in Tampa, where I can get outside and on the field anytime I want in December, in January. I took the time to build up my body, get in the weight room, get my conditioning in so that I have a nice base with which I can start my in-season regimen. Our team has designed a really good offseason program through the offseason months and then rolling right into Spring Training, so that I’m already set up for the Minor League season.”

On spring’s rigors: “This is my fifth year going into a Spring Training camp. I have developed a routine of what I need to be able to do — because it is a long day. If you’re not physically ready… There’s a difference between being in shape and being in baseball shape. I found that out the hard way my first year. I was in good physical shape, but I wasn’t used to the cutting, the starting, the stopping, keeping my body loose, cooling down. So I’ve learned to prepare myself for Spring Training.”

On his mindset entering camp: “The short-term goal for me is to move up. I got a little bit of taste of Memphis [in 2012], and my goal is to make that team and be a consistent contributor on that team like I was at Springfield last season. As long as that’s happening, I’m moving forward in my career, that’s the most important thing. I can get better. I want to get better. That’s my goal everyday. If I reach that goal, then getting to Memphis, getting to the big leagues shouldn’t be a problem if an opportunity presents with.”

Rich Crimi/Tulsa Drillers

Rich Crimi/Tulsa Drillers

On the talents of Taveras: “I tell this to everybody who asks. He is, by far, the best player I have ever played with or against. I’ve never seen anyone make this game look so easy. It’s not that he’s not trying hard. It’s that he does everything so well naturally that it looks like he’s just out here playing a different game. We  are all out there playing a kid’s game, but he is legitimately playing a kid’s game and the baseball field is his playground. There’s not anything he doesn’t do very, very well. If you watch him play and the ease with which he plays the game at a top level is amazing. There are certain things he does that are not in my tool box. And I’m OK with that. I watch him do things without [him] knowing or trying to do them, and it’s amazing. And I’m not trying to kiss his ass or anything like that. I played with him basically for five months and on a day-to-day basis with the bat and even in the field, it just makes me laugh and shake my head. I know that if I go out there and everything goes perfectly, things will work out for me. But there are some things that I watch him do I’m pretty sure, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ When a guy comes around like that, you don’t try to emulate what he does but emulate the ease with which he plays the game.”

On his go-to memories of Taveras: “I have seen him on so many occasions [where it] looks like the pitcher is in complete command for the first two strikes of the at-bat and it looks like [Taveras] has no idea what he is doing, and then the pitcher makes the best pitch he possibly can, and Oscar not just hits the ball, but barrels it. He finds a way to hit pitcher’s pitches harder than some mistakes. It’s amazing to see that. I would say that he is a left-handed Vlad Guerrero. I told him that one time. I told him he had the same hair and the same playing style, and he goes, ‘No, man, I left-handed.'”

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